Can you love when you know all love comes with an expiry date?
Can you love after once questioning what it means to love? Or, as Akkamahadevi asks, What does it mean/ That God loves you and you love god? (Tr. Yaravintelimath 2003:167). In Akanaanooru Avvaiyaar sings about a woman who lost her beauty, waiting for the lover who left her and now wants to “go into the neverending forest with many divided paths, like Velliveethi did”. Mentioning Velliveethi, the Kurunthokai poet who speak of her sleepless nights and wonders if the world will wage war on her, or her tragic heart will wage war on the world. But when do you get ready to go into the forest where hungry tigers roam?
Srivalli tells us something about those things. She is a poet, in her poetry she is an ascetic if Rumi and Akkamahadevi were ascetics, someone who weaves lines that inspire the devotion of religious texts, giving us a space to find hope by erasing what we have already. She spins in imagery akin to Tamil sangam literature like Kurunthokai and Akanaanooru, which had a grand vast world, filled with nature to create allegories for every thought in your mind. But sometimes she drags us back and tells us to look at them through our mobile screens.
Srivalli is a musical poet. Her lines evoke feelings similar to the ones when you are hearing a song and dancing without lifting your feet from the ground. But I will suggest you have to read them aloud, mostly. In a poem titled Spot, she describes a warm palm as her spot and describes herself as an accident mark of past, present and future and other things. Then suddenly, what if the palm is that persons, yours, the beloved, the ever elusive one, the one you ended up hating, the one you cannot bear to part with? She becomes a sunbird measuring the palm with its red nose as it tickles. Do I feel like a sunbird rubbing my nose on a palm, while my feet is not touching the ground? Why do I, or why do I not, feel my palm tickling?
Desire is closely regulated. By others, by entities living and nonliving, by us. Our desires are categorised into productive, allowable, stigma, etc. Srivalli slightly steps aside and desires sadness. Or looks at sadness with a kind eye. A day after reading her collection through the night, I felt Sorrow is not that alien thing destroying our peaceful lives anymore. It becomes a part of our everyday experiences, kindly giving us the balance needed against our productive machineries. And she does not do that by individualising the sorrow, rather she makes it a part of the social experience. A poem starts with the mesmerising line ‘sometimes my heart is a rose’. The Tamil word Manam is more like Mind, but used here and in most places as the thinking part of ourselves that loves in contrast with the more rational part, so I say heart. Reading that, suddenly I felt good. Good enough. All the abominations that happens within our heart felt forgiven. The rose then grows conscious of the plant, the other flowers, the sky it is growing towards, the strangers who pluck it, and the poem ends with ‘in that big big heart/ my heart is a rose’. Here as a careless reader I can end up reading the Manam as Vanam and would think my heart is a rose in a big big forest. Not so far I tell myself.
I think about these lines from Blessed is the Flame often. I want to add them here, hoping you will see why! Filip Müller tells a deeply disturbing story of a small group of Jewish families who, after hiding in dug-outs in southern Poland for four months, were discovered and brought to Birkenau to be killed. As in many other stories, one mother dedicated her final moments to comforting her infant daughter, even as they were led to a wall to be shot by a Nazi named Voss. Müller watched as the two performed a macabre dance: Voss circling trying to figure out where best to shoot the infant, while the mother reflexively turned to keep her daughter away from the barrel of the gun. Eventually Voss grew frustrated and shot the child three times. As he turned his gun on the mother, “she lost all self-control and flung her daughter straight at her murderer’s head.” Stunned, Voss wiped the blood off of his face and dropped his gun, clearly unable to carry on. Another guard quickly took over and finished the job.
Beyond a point, poems become what we read them as. Most of us, add as much to the lines we read, as much we take from them. I say this, as when I write about Srivalli, I feel like later day scammers writing explanations to the words of a prophet. I still do it, as I feel compelled to. In my world, there are no gods to be devoted to. There is no emptiness either. We can be devoted to us, the us that can encompass as many living beings as possible. And it is to that us I want to sing, lament and discuss Srivalli’s poems with.
But ofcourse, not all of her poems are like miracles, some doesn’t really pull the brake on your train of thoughts. I have read only one of her two collections, and other poems on magazines, her blog. So these are merely notes on my reading one of her collections, பொன்கொன்றை பூக்க வந்த பேய்மழை A Tempest Came for the Golden Laburnums to Blossom, and this is not a review. I am leaving you with these four poems, hoping my translation is just good enough to make you see what I saw, feel what I felt, dance like I did and take a sip of this sorrow we share with a smile in your face.
A warm palm is
my spot, whenever I am
not there, I am
a note standing outside the tune
a basket that breaks while weaving
an accident mark of past, present and future
When the palm is yours
I am a sunbird
with my red nose
measuring your palm
as it tickles.
From Land to Heaven
Where we went, there were
No Kino trees with dark trunks
No singing peacocks coming for
The market street we strolled through
had mangoes matured with carbide
A monkey circus was going on
When a tiny monkey bound by chains
raised its hands asking for alms
I asked you for me
In such a noisy market
Who can know where the asking comes from
But do you know
the sky hugged tight, me,
who was kneeling before your ears.
Never Lose Your Heart For The Sake of Anything
Each love happens
after the expiry date is decided
A branch is struck down
when it started growing
another was given some time
The branch that was given some time
might have seen many full moons
many rare birds might have perched on it
a few beehives might have been built upon it
But all branches
the raindrops of sorrow
Sorrow was the origin
Sorrow is the energy
The path of life
is not the straight line Buddha drew
It is the labyrinth drawn by Rati
Its glory is endless
This is not a song of hopelessness
Read the first two lines again
Never lose your heart for the sake of anything.
What we think are fingers, are really
Nut grass tubers
What we are given as hands, are really
They aren’t useful at all
When touching a beloved
All the red of existence
Must become the fingers that touch
Throbbing brain’s pulp
Must become tender hands that hug
In love’s pure worship
Wine will be nothing but wine
While the holy grace
That won’t accept substitution
Holyfeast is offering oneself to be devoured